Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Movie Morlocks: Ever Watchful, Ever Underfoot

Ever watchful, ever underfoot
by RHSmith
Movie Morlocks (TCM)

My kids have been creeping me out lately. They don’t know they’re doing it, they don’t mean to frighten me… and yet they do. And I want to say on the outset that this isn’t going to be one of those “13 Creepiest Kids of Horror Cinema” posts where I run through a tick list of the usual suspects: Damien, Rhoda, Gage, Reagan, Isaac or Joshua. No, those lists are usually the work of young, unmarried, unencumbered 30 somethings for whom the thought of having children is scary enough. I’m fishing deeper waters here in an effort to figure out precisely why the fruit of my loom so often makes my blood run cold.

Part of it has to do with the proximity of innocence to perversity. Kids are figuring it out as they go, pleasing themselves with odd sounds, facial expressions and body contortions - and props play a big part in that. (My daughter Vayda Jane can do 30 minutes with a drinking straw and an inch of milk.) All of our adult entreaties to “Stop doing that!” must make absolutely no sense at all to a 3 year old who has discovered how to entertain and delight herself. (When you’re an adult, that takes an iPod, a Wii and a cocktail of Cialis and St. John’s Wort.) The amused giggle of a kid caught doing something he or she shouldn’t beats for sheer lunacy the most maniacal mad scientist laugh because it’s so pure, so unfettered by psychology, by what our birthing guru called “story” - the encrusting of meaning, association and projection to every action, no matter how simple. Kids are elemental, in-the-moment, and that’s why its’ so easy for us to imagine they’re possessed by forces from beyond or actually evil incarnate. They’re different.

My 20 month-old son Victor spooks me most often these days. He’s a textbook Bad Sleeper, meaning the process of getting him into bed is a workout that’s closer kin to an exorcism (complete with thrashing and spinning and boundless gobbledegook, with occasional spit-up); it also means he is prone to getting up in the middle of the night and wandering. Luckily, I’m a light sleeper and will usually hear him turning the doorknob (squeaky, of course) in his bedroom down the hall. But some nights I don’t hear that and I awaken to a vague impression of someone standing beside me as I lay supine. I’ll open my eyes to discern the dim silhouette of a small human form standing over me with perfectly awful stillness and silent as the grave until the thinnest, hoarsest whisper cracks the quiet with a wispy “Hi.” Ooh, I’m getting chills now just thinking about it. You wouldn’t think one syllable could carry so much Gothic weight but, well, you really have to be there. He got me good the other night, too, when I’d stayed up late writing. I finished up around 1 am, shut off my computer, turned off the lights in the living room and was crossing into the dark, windowless hallway that leads to the bedrooms. Closing the door to the living room behind me and pausing for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the absolute Tell Tale Heart blackness of this short corridor, I was suddenly aware of a dim sliver of blue light creeping in from my right. I turned my head to see Victor’s door open and, back lit from the blue lava lamp we keep in his room as a nightlight, Victor’s perfect little silhouette. And he said nothing. Nothing! He just stood there looking at me. Brrr!

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